Fiction Reviews

Dare to Know

(2021) James Kennedy, Quirk Books £9.99, pbk,
(Can $29.99 / US$22.99 hrdbk), 304pp, ISBN 978-1-683-69260-7


It is the near future and a way has been discovered to predict the time of someone's death with astonishing accuracy. Some are prepared to pay big money for this knowledge; many should not.  When a physicist and an employee of Dare to Know meets a customer to predict her time of death, it does not go well. This is all our protagonist needs as his life has been spiralling downwards ever since he broke up with Julia during his rise up corporate ladder of Dare to Know. That was a big mistake and the start of his career going off the rails.

Leaving the customer he drives off in a snowstorm only to skid into a ditch. While waiting for the tow truck, he decides to predict his own death, even though doing so will destroy his prediction ability.

Running the calculations he discovers when he is due to die. The problem is that that time was twenty-three minutes ago!

Something was very wrong.  Either he was dead or the Dare to Know algorithms, that had thousands of times been so accurate, were wrong.

There was though one way to check.  While predictors cannot predict their own time of death without destroying their prediction ability, in the past he and Julia had calculated each other's death times and put them in sealed blue envelopes which Julia now has on the other side of the country. There was nothing for it but to go to her and get his envelope…

Dare to Know is something of a mind-twister reminiscent of Philip K. Dick.  Indeed, while the author outlines the predictive method in quantum physics terms (the author has a degree in Physics & Philosophy), in part the test itself has echoes of the Voigt-Kampff empathy test in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep a.k.a. Blade Runner.  The novel is decidedly new wave albeit a science fantasy wrapped up in the cloak of hard SF (Other than the conceit of thanaton particles, the physics is spot on with forays into Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and Hawking radiation. Though a knowledge of A-level physics is not needed to enjoy this novel, it does push the hard-SF button.)

Surprisingly, it is also a race against time story. 'Surprising' because we already know our protagonist is meant to be dead; at least, that's what the calculations say and so there is surely no rush.  Our man's life is spiralling out of control and there is a real sense of urgency throughout the book.  Though Dare to Know is not a time travel story, there is that sort of feel to it where the lead character knows – has the certainty of foreknowledge – that something is going to happen, or in this case has happened, but does not know why: a bit like Spens in The Tourist or John Anderton in 'The Minority Report' (Philip Dick again). Further, the novel's numerous flashback-backs that flesh out our hapless protagonist, add to the time travel feel, especially as there are a number 'coincidences', and past relevancies, that manifest themselves in the novel's present.

Dare to Know is a bit trippy but rather engaging for it.  It's the sort of novel that, while not making the Hugo or Locus shortlist, I could easily see being on a Clarke Award long-list. And, while I do not know if you are the sort of person who would – if they could – want to know the time of your death, please, do not be tempted to flip to the novel's end. Take the long way round: the journey's worth it.

Jonathan Cowie


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